There is an interesting picture that hangs in Mr. Jack Daniel’s old office. It’s a picture of Mr. Jack taken with his distillery crew. What makes the portrait so intriguing is the gentleman sitting immediately to Jack’s right, an African-American worker. Given the time period when this photograph was taken – around the 1900s – and the racial divide that permeated the American South, it’s intriguing to see an African-American man seated beside the proprietor of a business. But their proximity to one another in this photo underscores the remarkable relationship that is at the heart of how Jack came to make whiskey.
The man in the photograph above, we have reason to believe, is George Green. Along with being Jack’s friend, George was also the son of Nathan “Nearest” Green. And it’s Nearest Green, along with the Reverend Dan Call, who taught Jack Daniel about making whiskey at a still owned by the Lutheran minister.
Leaving home at an early age, Jack eventually came to live and work on the Reverend Call’s farm by the late 1850s, before Jack had reached his teenage years. It’s said Jack had a difficult relationship with his stepmother and that’s why he left home. The Call farm was located about five miles from Lynchburg, near Lois, Tennessee. On his farm, Call had a still and Jack quickly took interest in it. Now this was back in the days prior to the Civil War and Emancipation and the Call still was under the watch and care of an enslaved man named Nathan “Nearest” Green. The Reverend Call and his distiller, Nearest, taught Jack how to make whiskey. Most of that mentoring, however, fell to Nearest who worked side by side with Jack and taught the young distiller what would become his life’s passion.
After the Civil War, Reverend Call’s congregation and wife gave the preacher an ultimatum: walk away from making whiskey or walk away from his work as a minister. Call made the decision to sell his business to Jack. And so Nearest, now a free man, was hired by Jack and became the very first head distiller – or what we’d call a master distiller today – of the Jack Daniel Distillery. While slave labor was a part of life in the South prior to the Civil War’s close, Jack Daniel not only never owned slaves but he worked side-by-side with them as a hired hand to Dan Call. When it came time after the war to establish his own distillery, Jack’s crew were all hired men.
Nearest would work with Jack as his first master distiller until Jack moved his operation to the Cave Spring Hollow sometime after 1881. There, Nearest’s sons George and Eli and his grandsons Ott, Jesse and Charlie continued the Green family tradition, working at Jack’s distillery in the Cave Spring Hollow.
More than 150 years have passed since Nearest and Jack first began making whiskey together, and, to this day, there has always been a member of the Green family working at the Jack Daniel Distillery. If you find the time to come visit us in Lynchburg, you can see the portrait of Jack and Nearest’s son, George Green, that hangs in Jack’s old office and listen to a little more of this unique story of two men, their friendship and the whiskey they made together.